Conservatives who served with John Roberts in the Reagan and first Bush Administrations are giving strong endorsements of their friend and former colleague. He is, they say, a conservative who should become an excellent Supreme Court justice.
But Roberts’ own testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2003 when he was nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and his almost non-existent record on major policy issues, do not speak that clearly to other conservatives.
In a telling passage in the questionnaire Roberts filled out for the Judiciary Committee two years ago, he listed 16 speeches he delivered between 1983 and 2001. Then he said: “I did not speak from a prepared text on any of the foregoing occasions, and am not aware of any press reports on these addresses.”
For a quarter century in Washington, D.C., he has played a high-stakes game of public-policy poker—keeping almost all his cards face down.
Conservatives are taking a leap of faith in supporting this nomination.
No final verdict can be made on its wisdom until Roberts has been confirmed and served several terms. Now, however, conservatives—especially those on the Senate Judiciary Committee—ought to join liberals in asking him tough questions, trying to determine the depth and breadth of his reputed, yet largely undefined, commitment to strict constructionism.
Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.), who serves on the committee, is an outspoken critic of last month’s Kelo v. New London decision, in which the court ruled that the 5th Amendment’s “takings” clause does not prevent government from seizing people’s homes to give to private developers. He should pay special attention to Roberts’ role in the case of Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Here, as a private attorney, Roberts represented a government agency against property owners. His job, as he put it in a written answer to the committee in 2003, was “to argue before the Supreme Court that the agency’s moratorium on development to preserve the pristine character of Lake Tahoe did not constitute a taking of property.”
He won 6 to 3. But the dissenters were Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Roberts is undoubtedly brilliant and has led a remarkable life. On Fox News, former Reagan Atty. Gen. Ed Meese said: “I know him very well, and I think very highly [of him]. I think the President is to be commended for his outstanding appointment, an outstanding nomination.” Former George H.W. Bush Solicitor General Ken Starr, who was Roberts’ boss in that administration, said on MSNBC: “He is just spectacular. He is one of the leading lawyers of his generation….He is a mainstream conservative with this remarkable record.”
Kenneth Cribb, who was President Ronald Reagan’s top domestic policy adviser and now serves as president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, told HUMAN EVENTS he knew Roberts as “a strong conservative and loyal ally in the Reagan Administration.”
Still, beyond his stellar professional credentials (which, after all, a liberal could also boast), the argument for Roberts rests not on a public record all can see, but on personal character, witnessed only by friends and colleagues. It is said he is a deeply, if quietly, religious man and a dedicated father married to a woman who happens to serve as pro bono counsel to Feminists for Life.
It would have been nice, had he been all these things—plus a judge with a record to match those of, say, Edith Jones or Janice Rogers Brown.